The New Mexico state government and local schools are weighing their increasing financial ties to the fossil fuel industry as major US oil company Chevron launches its new “Fuel Your School” program. Chevron pledged on Thursday to donate $1 to local school projects for every tank of gasoline purchased, with up to $5 million in total available for schools across the country.
The new “Fuel Your School” initiative encourages people to fill up their gas tanks at Chevron locations to help local schools. Chevron set aside $75,000 specifically for school donations in three New Mexico cities; the state has invested heavily in oil production.
The oil industry makes huge annual contributions in tax revenue and royalties to the state of New Mexico, figures which make this new school initiative look like pennies. State and district education officials, though, are appreciative of Chevron for its support of educational programs.
“We’re thankful that a company that’s selling gas is choosing to invest in their community — they don’t have to,” public education Cabinet secretary Ryan Stewart told AP News.
But students aren’t quite so convinced. After the worldwide Climate Strike in late September, students continue to protest US dependency on oil — and are wary of this initiative, which could be the only option for impoverished communities. Linking education to gasoline sales can put schools in an “awkward bind,” Albuquerque high schooler Jonathan Alonzo told AP News.
Thousands of New Mexico students protested in front of the state Capitol building during the Climate Strike, many of whom were advocating for the petroleum industry to pay into a transition fund to rid the state economy of greenhouse gas emissions. They want the oil industry to be held accountable for its effect on the environment.
“Because of our poverty here in this city and where we stand on education anywhere, we’re not going to say we don’t want [Chevron’s] books and support,” Alonzo said. “But it also goes against what we want to do right now. … This is just a demonstration of how deep the oil and natural gas industry is in our education system.”
A third of annual spending by the state of New Mexico is from the petroleum gas sector, and the state’s oil production is continuing to rise. Sierra Club representative Camilla Feibelman told AP News the community is “playing with fire” by promoting gasoline sales and public education together. “The idea that we should all go fill up our tanks to pay for our education seems disjointed from the climate crisis that our state and our world is facing,” she said.